Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wrapping Up

For our last day we concentrated on conservation efforts. We got to Kom Aushim, the government storage facility. The director there, Mustafa, is someone we are getting along really well with.We did some conservation for some of the Egyptian digs, and some for ours. David also did a lot of photography. 

Paul and I went with our wonderful inspector, Ayman, to Fayoum city. There we met with the Fayoum head of antiquities police, Ashraf. We talked about the encroachment upon Philadelphia. He said he would see what he could do, and asked me to talk to Ahmed Abd Alal about it. We also went to the post office and got a money order for Ayman to pay him for his services. Then we met with Ahmed Abd Alal, head of Antiquities for the governate of the Fayoum. We talked to him about how the season has gone, and how we hope it will go for next year and the year after. We gave him a model of the Seila pyramid as a gift. He was very pleased. We also talked to him about the encroachment at Philadelphia. Like Captain Ashraf, he said he would do what he could but acknowledged what a problem they are having with this kind of thing and how hard it is to do something about it. We can only hope. I like Ahmed and hope things continue to go well for him. He is great to work with.

We returned to Kom Aushim and I did some measurements of some objects there we are trying to publish. We finished up what we were working on and said our goodbyes to everyone. I especially hate to say goodbye to Ayman. I hope that we can work with him again, he is a great guy to work with. I got everyone paid, all fees paid, etc., and we were able to wrap up a great season. (In case you missed it, the last things we did was literally wrap up a bunch of stuff. Not bad, eh?)



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Final day at Fag el-Gamous

On the way to the site on Tuesday, we pulled out a laptop and we went through pictures of the stelae and all the reports we have on them. We had been told some things by Farag and Gabr that just didn’t make sense to me. As we looked and looked at the pictures I feel like we really came to understand what we have in these stelae. After a while at the site we pulled out the computer and looked at it with Farag and Gabr and were able to confirm what I was thinking. This is good, we are making real progress.

For the first time ever we got to the site before the inspectors. When they arrived we were able to set things up and get going pretty quickly. As the textile field school proceeded David, Paul, and I went out to figure out how to use our total station. Dr. Brent Benson was with us at the beginning of the season to teach us how to use it, but because of our problems with customs we were not able to get it out of the airport until after he had left. He gave us some training about how to use it when we could, and so we finally gave it a try. It took us a little while to figure out how to get it all set up, but eventually we got pretty good at using it.  When we did, it worked very well. We were able to start to plot mud bricks with a fairly precise ability. I am excited about the possibilities of better documenting things with this equipment. We are so very, very grateful to Dr. Benson who donated the equipment.

In the meantime Dr. Tata and Madames Smith and South were running the textile field school for our inspectors. They did very well. They have learned a lot and analyzed quite a few good burials.

We did some more photographing of the stela, along with a bit more measuring and analysis. We will be able to make a good publication of this stela. There is so, so much to study and publish and we just don’t have enough time to keep up with it.

As it came time to start to finish things up, our sweet, wonderful inspectors from the field school presented us all with gifts. They are so very thoughtful and giving. They gave us wonderful little models of the Giza pyramids and gave Joyce Smith and Kristin South some nice little glass flowers that turn colors through fiber optics. They are so thoughtful. We then presented them with their certificates of graduation from our field school. I think they were very pleased with how well they did in the school and with the certificates. We believe we have finally figured out what needs to happen to make these certificates look the way they should. I think that in the end we had created an excellent certificate.

We cleaned up the storage magazine, preparing it for a year of sitting. It took some work, but I think we got it in pretty good shape. Then it was time to pay the workers, the guards, and to tell everyone goodbye. I always hate to say goodbye to Farag and Gabr, but hopefully we see them next year. They are good men. I also hated to say goodbye to our field school inspectors. They are wonderful and we have so enjoyed them. We will hope to see them again too. We have made wonderful friends here that we hope to see again and again.

We got home a bit earlier than usual. This was partially because we found a little bit of a shortcut. With the extra time we were able to get a cell phone set up for use whenever we come. We should have done this long ago. Then we had a wonderful dinner with Vassil Dobrev. He is a good man with a lot of good ideas. We talked about so many things, and it gave us so many things to think about for our excavation. We very much enjoy this good man and are grateful for our association and hope it continues for a long time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

At Fag el-Gamous again

Today was a great day. We got to the excavation and set up right away. Dr. Tata began on the field school right away. Our inspectors in the field school are so bright and caught onto examining textiles right away. Dr. Tata and Kristin South are good teachers and they are very good students.

One of the first things they did was examine a small mummy. This mummy was beautifully wrapped in a tunic and with other nice wrappings. There was some evidence that they tried much of the full mummification process. The toes and toenails and brain and tongue were amazingly preserved. We found a wonderful necklace and two bracelets on each arm. The jewelry makes us think it was a girl, but we cannot tell. Assuming it was, this little girl was about 18 months old when she passed away. She was buried with great care as someone who obviously loved her very much did all they could to take care of this little girl in burial. Very sad. But they succeeded, it was a beautiful burial. She had been buried with several other mummies, so we are interested in examining them.


 We also practiced washing textiles. They want us to clean some of the textiles we have in the permanent storage facilities. However, they are so nice we did not want to wash them without having practiced. Today we chose some textiles we were going to rebury and practiced washing and soaking them, experimenting with how much water to use, how many times to rinse, how much pressure can be applied while washing with a brush, how brittle they were after drying, whether or not we could unfold and flatten them easier while they were wet, etc. We practiced on both linen and wool. Kristin South headed up this effort, assisted a little by Kerry Muhlestein but a lot by Gabr, who has a delicate touch and a real feel for ancient textiles. We feel we had great success in doing this. We were quite astonished at the result, and believe we can do some excellent work with any of our textiles. This was a very fruitful activity. We will see how they fare after a full day of drying, and will do some more practicing tomorrow.

Dr. Evans did a lot of osteological work today. Dr. Whitchurch and Dr. Muhlestein worked on a number of things. We cleaned up and inventoried some of the facilities. We photographed some amazing Roman Glass and the various pieces of metal found on the baby mummy. 


We cleaned off the Snefru Stela and started measuring and photographing it as we prepare it for publication. We pieced together a few things we were unsure of before. We were not able to finish, but we made some good progress. 

Tomorrow is our last day of going to the cemetery. It is hard to believe we are winding down like that already. Time goes by so slowly when I think about my family, but so fast in regards to the work here.

Spent the evening making certificates of graduation for our field school participants.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A day among days

What a day! We left fairly early and met Dr. Vassil Dobrev at Saqqara. He has been excavating there for  years. He was so gracious, enthusiastic, and welcoming. We first went through some of the things in the museum there at Saqqara. Then we went to his site. We spoke of how he has been detecting arrangements of pyramids, and looking at elevations, and using the clusters and alignments of mastabas as he looks for the right places to excavate. Absolutely fascinating, and very well thought out. We so enjoyed this. It gave us some real things to think about regarding our pyramid at Seila.

Dr. Dobrev then took us through his 6th and 8th dynasty tombs. He has been finding fantastic things there. There was much that was so interesting. We could have spent hours there going through more and more of his finds. This was such a wonderful opportunity.

From there we met with an inspector that Zahi Hawass had arranged to take us through some of the more interesting parts of Saqqara. First we went to a monument we have always wanted to enter. It was fantastic, and thus a longtime dream was suddenly realized. We all enjoyed it.

From there we went to some wonderful tombs and had a great time looking at the incredible artwork.

 Then we went to the Serapeum. It has been closed for years and years, so it was another thrill to be able to see it. Impressive. Amazing. Huge. What a place. 

Then we went to Unas’ tomb and enjoyed some time there. In particular we got to a hillside where we were able to look one way and see Giza and another and see Dashur. We counted 16 pyramids that could be seen there. 

From there we went out to some more places that are typically closed. But we went in, we saw great stuff, and we loved every minute of it.

From there we went to a favorite restaurant called Andea’s. The food was good. We were in two cars, and one car got a bit lost. We ended up going through some very small backroads of Cairo, going on roads that were under construction  until we got onto a bridge that suddenly ended (fortunately we noticed this before we drove off), and then went in a few circles before we got to a road we recognized. We finally got on an iphone and used the gps map function to figure out where we were and where we should go. Some were nervous a few times, but in the end we made it.
It was exhausting, but this was quite a day!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Worship

Today was a pleasant day of worship and time with friends. Early in the morning Dr. Blumell leaves for home. We will miss him. We are grateful for the dear friends we have here and the time we are able to spend with them.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sundry items from a dig day

We would like to share a few parts of a typical day at the dig:

The location of each burial in the Fag el Gamous necropolis is documented. s The cemetery is laid out in east/west and north/south coordinates.  This season we are excavating in the area that is found between 120 and 130 meters north of the central datum point and 20 and 30 meters west of the north/south line.  Within the 120/130 North 20/30 West area, we are excavating in the NW square that is 5 meters square.  In this photo you can see the stake marking the most north western corner of the square and the yellow line marking the western edge of the square.  Dr. Giovanni Tata (left) is holding the black and white meter stick against the stake;  Dr. Kerry Muhlestein (standing) is making measurements with a tape measure and Kristin South (background) is recording the measurements in the field book.  The feet of three mummies clustered in this corner of excavation site are seen in the foreground. 

The length of the burial, depth, head location and feet location are measured from the north and west edges of each excavation square.  These data are entered into a database to provide a 3D representation of all burials in the cemetery.

Not shown in the photo are Dr. Paul Evans, Dr. David Blumell, Dr. David Whitchurch, Joyce Smith, and Brent Benson.

A lunch break is taken by the workers at about noon.  The call to prayers started at 12:03 today.  The workers eat in groups usually by the village where they live and by family relationships.  We have workers from four different villages that are near the Fag el Gamous necropolis and the Seila Pyramid.  Lunch is usually tomatoes, soft cheese, pita bread, onions, leeks, and a leafy plant that resembles chard.  The food is shared and all partake.  We usually work during the lunch break.  Burial documentation including photos, measurements, and descriptions can be accomplished during lunch break.

Our inspector this year is Ayman. He has been so very, very good. He knows what he is doing, he is efficient and knowledgeable. He is also so very happy, kind, friendly and upbeat. He is a real gem, and we hope we can work with him for many more seasons. He has taught and helped us in so many ways, and is a very good person.

A great deal of what we do is record what we are finding in both writing and pictures. We usually have the various specialists gather around each find to help us record in the field book all of our observations. We have a great team and this method has helped us to be very detailed. 

We have been greatly aided in our accuracy and consistency by the work of Joyce Smith. She has created checklists we go through for each feature we find. This way we make sure we don't ever forget to do one of the little aspects of recording and work with everything we find. She also created a number of stamps we put in the fieldbook that helps us to record everything we need to and accurately draw the aspects that need to drawn.

Some days we have the workers take their lunch break when we have many things we need to record and we need to have only the specialists working and no one hauling sand, etc. away. On those days they usually get a bit longer of a break, and they use it to relax from their hard labors.

 While we are sad that we won't work with our whole crew any more this season, we are glad that we will get to keep working with our two foremen. Farag and Gabr are brothers and have been part of this excavation since they were teenagers. They are truly gifted with the trowel and brush. They have a delicate and practiced hand and a real sense for how to clear off sand without disturbing the object in it. I believe they also have mummy radars implanted somewhere in their heads. They can tell when they are about to find one before any signs seem to appear. They are good men, very good men, and we feel like they are our brothers. 

Finishing the Square

It took a little longer to get out of Cairo today than normal, so we were just a little late getting to the site today. We set up our canopies and Dr. Evans began an osteology field school. He had a packet he had created to teach them about the basics of osteology, and a container of excellent specimen bones that he uses as he teaches them how to identify gender, age, height, etc. 

Dr. Evans spent the whole day in instructing them. They would process some of the burials we had already found, and then, as we found new burials they would come see them in situ and then analyze them as they were excavated. These inspectors are very sharp, and learned very quickly. Dr. Evans felt like they were doing very well by the end of the day. As I spoke with them they told me that they had learned a lot. They universally thought Dr. Evans was a great teacher. I guess he still has them fooled. 

We had an excellent day in excavating the cemetery. We immediately found another semi-vaulted burial just east of the two that we excavated yesterday. This was for a child, and was not vaulted, but bricks were laid over it in a similar manner. Measuring the bricks revealed that they were made from the same mold as the two adults who had been in the vaulted burials. Each of these three had something unique about it, but they were all similar to each other. We have never found anything like it in the past. I would love to do some DNA analysis to determine whether they are related or not. The fact that these three were all buried next to each other in this similar fashion suggests that they were buried together and perhaps related. Why they would use this different style burial is a question we cannot answer now. 


We also found a cluster burial. Two adults and two children all well wrapped and well preserved buried all together. Again, perhaps a family, perhaps people who knew each other that fell prey to disease or an accident. They were beautiful burials. So many people with stories I don’t know but wish I could. As I have said before, the child burials are always hard on me. 

One burial had a lot of long, curly blonde hair. The pelvis looked like that of a female. She must have had quite the head of hair in her day. Quite a few of our mummies today had excellent teeth, something that is unusual. One wonders if it is genetics that caused a group that may be related to each other to have better teeth than the norm. Of course we don’t know that they are related just because they are buried near each other, but throughout the history of the world it is common for families to be buried near each other. It seems likely, but we cannot assume.

We have also begun noting hand and arm position in burials. The most common position in this square, besides just having arms to the side, is to have one arm bent at a 45 degree angle so that the hand goes over the abdomen, and the other bent at less of an angle, or sometimes just at the wrist, so that the hand covers the pelvis. When we are done I will gather the statistics and see how common this is. Perhaps we have enough information in other field books to see if this is a common trend. Interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, back at Mustafa’s ranch, Lincoln and David went to Kom Aushim again because Lincoln really wanted to get another look at one of the inscriptions he has been working on. He thought that spending an hour there would be enough, but it must have taken them about three based on the email we got from them. David said that Lincoln was as happy as a clam, assuming that clams are happy. I think it has been a very fruitful trip for Lincoln.

We reached gebel throughout the square by the end of the day. We had to stay about 45 minutes later than they like, but we finished. This is good because we have a lot of work to do analyzing these burials. The square we were working in was already partially excavated, and we excavated 45 mummies this season. That is a lot, it was a dense area. There was not much in the way of grave goods or textiles, but there were more interesting practices than usual, with three examples of one unique practice (the vaulted burials) and one of another unique practice (two people buried together facing different directions). It has been very fruitful, but our work is cut out for us for the next while. Still, the excavating aspect is done.